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Sarcasms, Op 17

'Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms' (CDA67896)
Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition; Prokofiev: Visions fugitives & Sarcasms
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No 1: Tempestoso
No 2: Allegro rubato
No 3: Allegro precipitato
No 4: Smanioso
No 5: Precipitosissimo

Sarcasms, Op 17
Standing rather apart from the salon pieces, Impressionist evocations and fairy tales that make up the bulk of early twentieth-century piano miniatures, there are also some that have their sights set more on innovation and experiment. Prokofiev himself gave one of the earliest performances of Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces, Op 11 (1909), and Bartók’s uncompromising Burlesques (1908–11) and Allegro barbaro (1911) enjoyed considerable notoriety at the time. Prokofiev’s own Sarcasms, composed between 1912 and 1914, are more or less in this mould, and they are certainly among his most experimental works before his period of self-imposed exile from 1918.

No doubt there was an element of image-consciousness here, too, right from the beginning. Prokofiev revelled in the controversy provoked by his more extravagant compositions and performances. In 1941 he reflected on the fifth Sarcasm, perhaps again with a degree of hindsight: ‘Sometimes we laugh maliciously at someone or something, but when we look closer, we see how pathetic and unfortunate is the object of our laughter. Then we become uncomfortable and the laughter rings in our ears, laughing now at us.’ But there is no need to take these compositions too seriously. Equally plausible is the response of the noted Russian virtuoso Konstantin Igumnov to the same piece: ‘This is the image of a reveller. He has been up to mischief, has broken plates and dishes, and has been kicked downstairs; he lies there and finally begins to come to his senses; but he is still unable to tell his right foot from his left.’

from notes by David Fanning © 2013

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